Health bites

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2013, 9:26am

They're a crazy bunch

This year's edition of annual charity run Beat the Banana! on March 17 will be a real family affair. A one-kilometre Kids Banana Run has been introduced by the race organiser, World Cancer Research Fund Hong Kong, to get children aged eight and under involved. Just as in the usual three-kilometre Fun Run undertaken by families, participants will chase after someone dressed as a banana - the Banana Kid - who will be selected through online voting. A Banana Man for the three-kilometre race has been picked: former Australian national athlete Troy de Haas, the winner of last year's three-kilometre race. There'll also be a six-kilometre Elite Race with a prize of a return flight to London. All races run along the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade. To sign up, go to All funds raised will go to support the fund's cancer-prevention work.

Read you loud and clear

Babies growing up in a bilingual environment develop strategies to distinguish between - and begin to learn - the two languages from as young as seven months, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications. The study, by the University of British Columbia and Université Paris Descartes, shows that such infants use pitch and duration cues to identify the languages, particularly those with very different grammatical structures, such as English and Japanese. In English, a function word comes before a content word (the dog, his hat, with friends, for example) and the duration of the content word is longer, while in Japanese or Hindi, the order is reversed, and the pitch of the content word is higher. "Your baby is very equipped to keep these languages separate and they do so in remarkable ways," says UBC psychologist Janet Werker, a co-author of the study.


Booze and you lose

Alcohol consumption is responsible for the deaths through cancer of about 20,000 people annually in the US - about 3.5 per cent of all fatal cancer cases - say researchers who examined recent data from the US on alcohol consumption and cancer mortality. "The relationship between alcohol and cancer is strong, but it is not widely appreciated by the public and remains underemphasised, even by physicians," says the study's senior author, Dr Timothy Naimi from Boston University School of Medicine. "Alcohol is a big preventable cancer risk factor that has been hiding in plain sight." The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that the most common cause of alcohol-attributable cancer deaths was breast cancer in women, and cancers of the mouth, throat and oesophagus in men. Although higher levels of alcohol consumption led to a higher risk of cancer, an average consumption of 1.5 drinks per day or less accounted for 30 per cent of all alcohol-attributable cancer deaths.

Omega 6 passes the acid test

While the jury is still out on whether omega-6 fatty acids reduce or increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, a new study has uncovered potential clues as to the mechanism which underlies their health benefits. Researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital have found that feeding the fatty acids to roundworms or adding them to cultured human cells activates a cellular renewal process called autophagy. "It has been suggested that autophagy can extend lifespan by maintaining cellular function, and in humans a breakdown in autophagic function may be involved in diseases including inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson's disease and - in a more complex way - in cancer and metabolic syndrome," says study lead author Eyleen O'Rourke. Roundworms that consumed a full normal diet supplemented with omega-6 fatty acids - commonly found in meats, poultry and vegetable oils - lived 20 to 25 per cent longer than usual.